In normal years during winter, somewhere around 20 percent of Americans living in the middle and northern latitudes suffer some degree of seasonal affective disorder or SAD. This year, with so much uncertainty and isolation, no one knows how high the incidence of SAD could climb.
But for sure, corporate managers, including those responsible for ethics and compliance programs, should prepare for what’s coming.
According to the Mayo Clinic, seasonal affective disorder “is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons.” Symptoms usually start in the fall and continue into the winter months.
The cause of SAD is unknown, Psychology Today says. The most common explanation is that short days and long, cold nights trick the brain into thinking we should sleep more. That brings on lethargy in mild cases and full-blown depression in severe cases.
Whatever the cause, if a big segment of the workforce is suffering from SAD, there will be an impact on individual performance, of course, and also on corporate performance. How much impact? Who knows? But training is likely to be less effective, and motivation to keep things “clean” in the supply chain could flag.
Covid-19 complicates the outlook. The usual defense against depression is time spent socializing. This year, that’s missing. Most of our social outlets are gone.
As UK-based journalist Cosmo Landesman lamented last week,
Thanks to a combination of night-time curfews, social-distancing rules, pubs closing, restaurants failing, the “rule of six” and compulsory mask-wearing, that basic and necessary human need for people to meet for a drink has never been so difficult.
Psychologist Souzan Swift thinks those with SAD may find it more difficult to overcome the symptoms. It’s the first winter when we’re experiencing “this kind of stress and fear in the world,” she said.
So, how to respond to SAD in the (virtual) workplace?
Srini Pillay, M.D. cautioned managers not to brush off seasonal mood changes as simple “winter blues.” Instead, he said, talk about SAD openly and emphasize the medical legitimacy of the condition. Any sympathetic discussion de-stigmatizes depression and encourages sufferers to open up.
Next, hold depression screening days for employees, preferably in late fall. Screening is always voluntary, but senior managers should refer anyone who exhibits or talks about SAD symptoms. Be ready with a list of online resources to help people understand depression better. And if there’s enough interest, hire a professional service to run support groups.
Third, adjust workloads, expectations, and feedback, at least temporarily. Employees and managers should “work together to come up with realistic, comfortable goals to aid recovery,” Dr. Pillay said. “That could mean setting up deadlines on projects, having more frequent check-ins, or other strategies that fit. It might be best to decrease an employee’s workload for a short time until his or her recovery progresses.”
Compliance professionals already have plenty to do. They don’t need to add another role, that of company psychologist. But being aware of SAD and how it might impact training and job performance is essential.
Most important of all is making sure those suffering from SAD get the help they need. That’s the welcome duty of any manager and friend.